Stanford football still loves the Rose Bowl after three trips in four years
LOS ANGELES — Stanford has the Rose Bowl routine down pat.
The Cardinal are doing it all for the third time in four years — starting with the trips to Disneyland, Lawry's restaurant in Beverly Hills, the Improv comedy club in Hollywood, followed by media day at a downtown hotel and the team photo at the stadium the day before the game, and culminating with the annual clash between Pac-12 and Big Ten opposition on Jan. 1.
But Stanford players and coaches swore off the idea that any Rose Bowl fatigue has set in.
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"It's probably a better feeling that you're a fifth-year senior because you appreciate it more," defensive back Ronnie Harris said.
That hasn't always been the case in recent years at the Rose Bowl.
Southern California players privately expressed their desire for a change of scenery during a run of four consecutive Rose Bowl appearances from 2006-2009. Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas and receiver Josh Huff openly lamented the prospect of heading back to Pasadena in 2013 before ceding control of the Pac-12 North to eventual conference champion Stanford.
Hart understands that fans might get tired of making the same trip. It is not the same for players and coaches, Hart said.
Reaching a top-tier bowl can lead to sustained success, with five of the eight College Football Playoff participants having played in a New Year's Six game the previous season. And if winning the Pac-12 leads to a berth in the Rose Bowl instead of the CFP, so be it, kicker Conrad Ukropina said.
"It's where we set our goal," Ukropina said.
However, with the two CFP semifinals being played on Dec. 31, the Rose Bowl does seem to have been reduced in stature this season. There is little national media presence, and Tuesday's media day was a noticeably sleepy affair compared to previous years.
Its most colorful moment came at the end of the hour-long session when Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri posed for pictures while wearing a Christmas wreath that had fallen off the wall around his neck.
The preceding Bowl Championship Series led to similar predictions of doom and gloom for the oldest bowl game by forcing the Rose Bowl to take teams from outside its traditional Pac-12-Big Ten arrangement and reducing its prominence in years it did not host the national championship, but Ukropina remembers two of those games fondly.
Ukropina's father attended Washington State, so he was rooting for the Cougars against Oklahoma in 2003. The 2011 game between TCU and Wisconsin came down to an unsuccessful two-point conversion, prompting Ukropina to imagine a high-stakes moment of his own in the Rose Bowl.
"That was the year I was being recruited to Stanford and thinking maybe this could happen [to me] someday," Ukropina said of the Horned Frogs' win. "Now being able to play in three of them is just an absolute dream come true. It's still pretty surreal."
A Pasadena native, Ukropina will have more than 70 friends and family in attendance for Friday's game against the Hawkeyes. If he gets the chance in the Rose Bowl to duplicate his game-winning field goal against Notre Dame, Ukropina said the emotions or magnitude of the moment would not get the best of him.
"I would really treat it no differently than any other kick and hopefully it goes well," Ukropina said.
And if it goes in?
"Then it will be different," he said.